A frame-up trial of 20 anti-fascist activists began on Nov. 27 in the Primorsky court in Odessa, Ukraine. The defendants are among 70 people jailed or held under house arrest since the May 2 massacre at the House of Trade Unions.
Armed fascist goons from western Ukraine were bused into the southeastern city in April and May to suppress the protest movement against the U.S.-backed government in Kiev, which took power in an illegal coup last February.
Unleashed on the multinational port city, the ultra-right attacked and burned an Occupy Wall Street-style encampment on Kulikovo Field. Anti-fascists fled to the nearby House of Trade Unions. The neo-Nazis shot at, gassed and finally burned those inside. Survivors who jumped from the blazing building were beaten, some to death.
Officially, 48 people were killed in the massacre, though activists believe the true number is far higher.
None of the neo-Nazis who carried out the massacre have been jailed, much less put on trial — despite the existence of extensive video footage and photographs of the massacre, some of it proudly posted online by the fascists themselves. An official parliamentary inquiry into the tragedy led to stonewalling by police and the Interior Ministry.
The preliminary hearing of the anti-fascists in the Primorsky court was a farce, as reported by independent news site Timer. The 20 defendants were caged. Many of their attorneys were absent. Just 10 minutes before the hearing was scheduled to started, the prosecutor requested a 60-day extension of the prisoners’ detention. The request was granted.
The hearing started late. After a brief appearance, the judge hid in his chambers. Eventually the hearing was declared over, to be resumed Dec. 3, but the defendants refused to come out of the cage and leave the courtroom. They chanted, “Freedom to political prisoners!” and “No to the bloody regime!” (Timer.od.ua, Nov. 27)
Family members and supporters in the courtroom shouted, “Shame on the Primorsky court!” as police forced them out. Outside, right-wingers attacked two defendants.
After that debacle, the Primorsky court refused to hear the case further, referring it to the Odessa Regional Court of Appeals, which promptly sent the case back. As of Dec. 12, Primorsky was still refusing the case.
Albu: ‘Prisoners must feel our support’
Workers World spoke about the trial and the situation in Odessa with Odessa Regional Council Deputy Alexei Albu, a leader of the anti-fascist movement and survivor of the May 2 massacre. A coordinator of the Marxist organization Union Borotba (Struggle), he was forced to leave the city in May under threat of arrest. Albu currently lives in exile in Crimea, where he co-founded the Committee for the Liberation of Odessa and the investigative website 2May.org.
“Among the 70 opposition members arrested by the government are people of different political views, and even some bystanders, who are accused of various crimes,” Albu explained.
“The charges include terrorism, attempting to change the borders of Ukraine and support for the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Some are accused of plotting a coup — even though those in power now got there through a coup!
“All the political prisoners are united in hatred of the neo-fascist regime,” he said. “They include anti-capitalists like Vladislav Wojciechowski and Nikolai Popov.”
“The authorities can’t prove the guilt of the defendants,” stated Albu, noting that some gave confessions under torture. “The judges themselves realize these people aren’t guilty, but they are under intense pressure from the executive branch to condemn the anti-fascists in Odessa. The judges understand that they have to live in Odessa and look people in the eye, which is why they are refusing to deal with the criminal cases.”
Albu said the Committee for the Liberation of Odessa is urging people to come out and support the political prisoners at future court dates: “We have to be in the court because the political prisoners must feel our support. They must feel that they are not alone. They need to understand that everything they did was not in vain.”
Protests grow bolder
After seven months of occupation by neo-Nazi gangs and intense repression, Odessa workers and anti-fascist activists are growing bolder in their resistance.
Kiev and the local rulers are doing everything they can to suppress protests, Albu told WW, explaining that “coming to the courthouse, relatives and supporters are arrested or attacked by organized ultra-nationalists.”
Yet activists and victims’ family members continue to gather every Sunday on the Kulikovo Field to mourn those who died on May 2, despite facing frequent harassment from police and violence from junta supporters.
A man was arrested at the Dec. 7 commemoration, after putting on a St. George’s ribbon, the orange-and-black striped symbol of the anti-fascist movement and the Soviet victory over Nazism in World War II. Police dragged him off in front of his crying 8-year-old son and detained him for several hours. (Borotba.su)
On Dec. 10, an explosion ripped through a so-called volunteer center — actually a fascist organizing headquarters that gathers supplies for the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO), the regime’s brutal war against the independent People’s Republics of the Donbass mining region. (Molbuk.ua)
More than 600 workers walked off the job Dec.14 in a bold anti-war action at the Odessa Portside Plant, one of Ukraine’s largest chemical facilities. The workers demanded an end to the economic blockade against the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
Because of the war in Donbass, the plant has lost business, and is now operating at 30 percent of capacity. Workers held signs and banners reading, “No economic blockade” and “Make peace so we can work.” They also demanded the rehiring of laid-off workers. (Tribuna.ru, Dec. 15)
The combination of the civil war unleashed by Kiev, austerity measures demanded by the U.S. and European Union, and the global crisis of capitalism has pushed Ukraine to the brink of bankruptcy.
Like many areas of the country, Odessa suffers from rolling power outages, utility and rent hikes, and cuts in social services. On Dec. 13, the government predicted consumer gas prices would jump three to five times higher this winter.
In response, Kulikovo activists are planning to protest at the Odessa Regional State Administration building on Dec.19. Under the slogan “We want to live, not just exist,” they are calling on local residents to join them. (Timer.od.ua, Dec. 15)
“Today everyone understands that the regime in Ukraine will not last long,” said Albu. “The junta will fall, and everyone who helped the ATO, who attacked our loved ones, who threw our friends into prison, who made them starve, will have to answer for it.
“It’s this awareness of imminent retribution that hardens the fascist attack dogs. But the pendulum of history has already started moving back and there’s no getting around it,” Albu concluded.